When it comes to music, where precisely do you draw the line between inspiration and plagiarism? Is the aforementioned line even real? Many people have been perplexed by this subject, and while some legal and technical standards are employed across the world to differentiate between the two, they don’t provide much in the way of genuine clarity.
To address the elephant in the room, according to a storey published in the Express Tribune on January 18, Nirmala Maghani, an up and coming singer from Umerkot, accused producer Xulfi of stealing the melody for Coke Studio season 14’s instant hit ‘Tu Jhoom’ from a vocal sample she sent to him in June 2021.
To be honest, after listening to both the sample and the whole song, it would take an excessively optimistic individual to argue that the two aren’t disturbingly similar. As mentioned in the original article, there are slight variations in the song key and a note here and there, but the melody and phrasing are substantially the same in both circumstances.
Phrasing is simply the way expression is expressed in a musical piece, the way a musician moulds a sequence of notes or a singer emphasises specific lyrics during delivery. When comparing Nirmala’s and Xulfi’s work in this context, the parallels in phrasing within the melody, especially the verses, stand out. Of course, phrasing in the context of singing is incredibly unique to each performer and very difficult to imitate perfectly, but the melody and note sequence are hauntingly identical in both situations.
However, Xulfi told the Tribune, “I can’t say my work for CS derived from such sharing samples I got.” What this declaration contains, as well as the actual facts and intents of both parties, are matters that may be better answered in the presence of legal specialists. The following is an attempt to comprehend the bigger issue.
If we want to address the initial issue, which is how to tell the difference between inspiration and copying, it can help to learn a few musical principles.
Taking Rohail Hyatt’s views a step further, and setting aside the strictness of notes within raags, genres within music exist for a reason. Consider Punjabi bhangra, rap, blues, jazz, rock, or commercial pop as examples. There are usually parallels within a certain genre’s musical vocabulary. What is a bhangra song without the traditional dhol beat? How would you classify a song as blues if it didn’t include 12-bar strolling bass lines or twangy guitars? A rap tune without fast-paced vocals? And we’ve all seen the videos of those four “magic chords” that can be played over nearly any pop song from the 1990s to the 2010s. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest it!